Authors: Sam Bowring
In the clearing before the hut, Corlas worked on training his warriors. The youngest were the most fluid, the most graceful, having been brought up in Whisperwood and never knowing much of their Varenkai roots. They were Sprites now, almost full-blooded, and they wielded Old Magic with ease and abandon. In the older ones, who had lived other lives before coming here, the magic was not as strong. A lifetime of habits were hard to shrug off . . . yet each of them was making progress. As for himself, he was empowered, chosen by Vyasinth to lead her people, and lent something by her – of that he was certain. Despite this, as he strode about barking orders, Corlas felt a glimmer of his former life tugging at him – for he had been a taskmaster once before, charged with teaching young people to fight, not least his boy. But not like this.
‘Nindere, Charla!’ he said.
His young wife grinned as she stepped into place opposite Nindere, who was just as eager to show off his skills. Others gathered to watch the duel.
He raised his hand. ‘On my mark,’ he said. ‘One . . . two . . . three!’
As his hand came down, both Charla and Nindere flung theirs up. Light and darkness flashed around them, melding as they wrestled, each in command of their own threads. Charla stepped sideways as Nindere brought an old log erupting up through the ground, then
forward and down under his defences. A series of vines curled upwards to wind around his legs, travel around his waist and along his arms. Despite the determination in his eyes he was quickly entangled, and soon covered from head to toe in snaking vines. Charla began to direct his arms like a puppeteer, making him do a halting, clumsy dance. She laughed and all laughed with her, even Nindere.
‘Rrr,’ he growled from within his living prison. ‘Best of three?’
‘No need to humiliate you further,’ said Charla.
‘Charla wins the bout,’ announced Corlas.
She skipped across the ground, threw her arms around him and hauled herself up to kiss his cheek. She never did listen to his pleas about keeping their affections private, and never could he bring himself to be too angry with her about it.
‘Favouritism,’ said Nindere, and Corlas chuckled.
‘It is not my vines that have you so entwined,’ he said. ‘Charla beat you with no aid from me.’
Charla . . .
if you wouldn’t mind . . .’
Obligingly she waved her hand. The vines dropped away, Nindere giving an extra shake to be rid of them.
‘So,’ Charla said. ‘Who’s next?’
His head turned slightly at the call.
Charla looked into his distant eyes – these days the grey was flecked with gold.
‘The Lady wants you?’ she said.
‘Yes.’ He refocused on the group. ‘Carry on with your training – but be careful not to hurt each other!’
The Sprites nodded, and Charla reached to tug his bushy green beard.
‘See you tonight,’ she said breathily. ‘Maybe I’ll tangle
in some vines.’
Corlas smiled and departed, heading off through the trees to where he would find Vyasinth. It was an hour’s walk or so, but he did not mind. He loved this wood and the happiness it brought him . . . but he feared the trouble that would soon come, feared the reason why he trained his people. Stopping at a broken frond, he gave a little waggle of his fingers. Green sparkles ran along the tear, and the leaf knitted itself back together.
He found her, as expected, kneeling beside her scrying pool, which was clear and still and untouched by floating leaves. She raised her earthy face as he arrived, her twig hair crackling.
‘My Lady,’ he said, bowing his head.
‘Your brethren will make fierce warriors, Corlas,’ she said.
‘If they remember there are no smiles in battle,’ she added, a touch of amusement in her voice. She was no less fond of them than he was, and he chuckled.
‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘I do wonder how they will fare when it is real foes they face. They have no true experience of battle.’
‘Perhaps we’ll soon know,’ she replied, her tone turning serious.
‘You have seen something?’
‘Yes. Bel has found the Stone, and your sons have just vied over a fort called . . . Holdwith?’
Corlas felt the last trace of good humour fade from his face.
‘Holdwith,’ he echoed. Strange to think of these places in a land he had once defended.
‘Do we move yet?’ he said. ‘Is it time?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘We must wait a little longer. They are each still far away from here, where our power is strong . . . but, if I’m right, fate will soon conspire to bring them closer to the wood. And when that happens . . .’
‘When that happens,’ said Corlas, staring hard into the pool, ‘we will make things right once more.’